Playing Chicken with Maryn McKenna
In her 2015 TED Talk, “What Do We Do When Antibiotics Don’t Work Anymore?” journalist and author Maryn McKenna tells the story of her great uncle who died of a basic infection after a minor injury in a firehouse in 1938. Most people back then, she tells the audience, didn’t die of the lifestyle diseases we do now, but of simple injuries that led to infections. Antibiotics changed all that and yet, as McKenna details, we’re on the verge of setting back the clock on this crucial technology.
Antibiotic resistance is urgent enough for the U.N. to have called a General Assembly meeting to discuss it in 2016 and for the Obama Administration to have created an action plan in 2015. It’s also common enough that many parents now think twice before using antibiotics to treat common illnesses like ear infections in children. The medicine humans directly ingest, however, is only part of the problem. As McKenna also underscores, as much as 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals (more than 63,000 tons per year). . .